Thursday, February 11, 2016

REVIEW: 'Legends of Tomorrow' - Ray Looks Out for a Scientist When the Team Travels to the Soviet Union in 'White Knights'

The CW's Legends of Tomorrow - Episode 1.04 "White Knights"

The team follows Vandal's trail straight into the heart of the Soviet Union. Ray tries to bond with a beautiful Soviet scientist, Valentina Vostock (Stephanie Corneliussen), in the hopes of finding out Vandal's next move. When she rejects him, it's Snart to the rescue. Stein pushes Jax to be better, which frustrates Jax and ultimately threatens the Firestorm matrix. Rip asks Sara to train Kendra.

Across four episodes now, Legends of Tomorrow has shown such a tough determination to stick to the plot at all costs. Every single episode now has featured a sequence where one character has to summarize the plot yet again. It has kept the show from truly taking off. It's in a rut right now where it's just repeating the same things over and over again. Even though the team has now traveled to the height of the Cold War in the 1980s, they are dealing with the same issues in the same immature and scattered ways. Rip is still very serious when he talks about the grave importance of protecting the mission at all costs. The team once again has to re-commit to the mission. Plus, the team is too separated in order to come together for the big mission in the end. It's a formula that has been on display in every episode so far. It has gotten very tiring.

"White Knights" is the first episode without Vandal Savage. Taking his place as the main villain is Mr. Robot's Stephanie Corneliussen as a Soviet nuclear scientist, Valentina Vostock. Her introduction is very clumsy and doesn't force any interesting emotions out of the main characters. So, it's hard to get a good read on her. And yet, when she's holding Snart at gun point and forcing Ray to leave her device online, she proves herself to be a much more compelling presence than Casper Crump as Savage. But getting to that point in the story is very messy. It's all Ray's fault too. This is a pretty horrible episode for him and with seemingly no purpose either. He's a hero and wants to protect people. However, he foolishly believes that Valentina is completely innocent in this whole mess. But he has nothing to support that perspective. He just wants to believe in her as a scientist and not as being completely complicit in Savage's plans for world domination. There's no point to it other than it completely screwing over the team once they break into her facility.

Ray really has nothing he should be confident about when he heads out to handle this mission. He believes he can charm Valentina because he has always charmed everyone. The fact that Snart is able to woo her much more effectively is the biggest hint right away that she will turn out to be evil. Her research is trying to develop a Soviet Firestorm. Savage saw Stein and Jax in action a decade prior and is trying to make that a reality for his side of this war as well. It's a huge threat. The team may have just made the timeline worse because of trying to stop Savage. But that holds completely no bearing on the plot of this episode. Stein learns of what Valentina is doing in her lab. This research seemingly hasn't affected the future at all. But no one checks or is concerned either. It's meaningful that Ray, Stein and Rory are kidnapped. However, it's a very frustrating moment because Ray wants to save Valentina from the radiation exposure that would kill her. It's a very foolish moment. The consequences of which aren't even all that interesting. But again, there's no purpose to it. Ray just didn't fit into this story and his need to be the moral center was very aggravating and annoying. He's a character who can have so much purpose in this story. But in this episode, he was easily the worst. And now, his friends are in an impenetrable Soviet prison because of it.

The main story probably doesn't land all that well because the show is still dividing up its narrative in ways that don't build naturally off of each other. Everyone on the team is angry with someone else because multiple things go wrong at the top of the hour when they break into the Pentagon to steal a crucial file. But even these conflicts are very repetitive and formulaic. Jax is tired of Stein bossing him around all the time. Sara and Kendra are both struggling to control their inner monsters. Rip is questioning whether or not this mission has done any good. These conflicts have popped up before on this show - as well as on The Flash and Arrow. There's just no meaningful substance around them. That's because the show will always choose plot over character. It has proven that over the course of these four episodes so far. That makes it hard to connect with anything that is happening on the show. All the disagreements happen in order to create tension amongst the team. That distraction leads to the later events where half the team is captured and facing a horrible future of torture by the hand of Savage.

Those distraction moments never work because they ultimately don't do anything. It's meaningful that Sara is training Kendra how to be a better warrior now that Carter is no longer around. But it's also an annoying detail as well. Rip can travel through time. He hand picked this team. Why couldn't he have taken a version of Kendra that was already trained? The answer is simple. This is where the version of the character was left off on the other two shows. She has to continue her emotional arc on this one. It's just annoying that time has to be wasted on training. It doesn't seem like a good use of time. It's great that Sara and Kendra are bonding. That's a connection specific to this show and could bring out good material for both in the future. But the show is very heavy handed about the two being able to teach each other something in battle. It's a lackluster story whose resolution is that they'll keep training together. But was training so important that they couldn't help out the rest of the team once things turned sideways at Valentina's lab?

But the most annoying aspect of this episode comes when Cronos catches up to the team again. This time he has a friend - in the form of Rip's old mentor, Time Master Druce (Martin Donovan). It should be a very emotional time for Rip. He stands opposed to his biggest friend from the Time Council. And yet, it's a story reduced down to absolutely nothing due to time restraints. It's literally just something for Rip to do. It's an idea that could be meaningful. Rip going rogue is a fascinating story because it makes the Time Council an enemy to the mission - which is more intriguing than the main plot to story Vandal Savage. But here, it largely just amounts to the team once again questioning their purpose with this mission. They have to re-commit to it in the wake that everything has happened. Of course, it's all just a trap. Druce really just wants to kill Rip and his team for this betrayal. But that action is so rushed and oddly placed in the episode. It happens early and then just disappears. All of these various elements of the show have their good and intriguing moments. But the show still hasn't found a way to have everything build up to something more - which becomes more problematic with each passing episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "White Knights" was written by Sarah Nicole Jones & Phil Klemmer and directed by Antonio Negret.
  • The show would be smart to dig deeper into the people who decide to side with Vandal Savage in this war. That would be a way to get around the Savage problem - though just by a little - while still allowing some stakes into the narrative. Mostly, Valentina just needs to become a more multi-dimensional character. Not just someone whose beauty distracts Ray for a little bit.
  • The tension between Stein and Jax has really gotten annoying as well. It's fine for them to have disagreements. But it's just not interesting. It seems incredibly petty and immature. Both characters can be described that way. But it's not leading to interesting drama. It largely just means Stein is in the field alone when he's taken.
  • It's a good thing though that the show takes the time to explain how these characters will get around the language barrier while in the Soviet Union and in the future. 
  • Rory is still just a character who wants to bust into rooms and use his gun. That's all he's interested in doing. But that makes him a very weak, simple and one-note character.
  • Despite all of this criticism, I'm still looking forward to next week's episode because it will likely feature Wentworth Miller planning a prison break.